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SONY SLV-AV100, VCR-DPL AMP COMBO £750 ****

 

Why’s it here? It might be better to ask why hasn’t someone done it before? The integration of a NICAM VCR with a beefy AV amplifier and DPL processor is quite unique, and it makes a lot of sense. Akai produced a VCR with a built-in surround-sound decoder and amplifier about five years ago, and more recently a VCR with a DPL decoder, but the Sony SLV-A100 is a far more complete solution. It can function as the core component of a home cinema AV system, with auxiliary inputs for up to four other source components, including a tuner, CD and laserdisc players.

 

Any unique features? Apart from the weight? At 13kg it’s quite a lump. That’s due to the dual power supplies, one very meaty transformer and a substantial metal chassis. It’s very solidly built -- Sony proudly told us that 130 screws are used in its construction... The VCR section is loosely based on one of their current NICAM models, an uprated SLV-E810 in fact, with a super-fast deck mechanism. It’s a reasonably sophisticated design, with auto installation, on-screen displays, NTSC replay, Trilogic tape optimisation, front AV inputs and multi-speed replay.

 

The AV amplifier appears to have quite a lot in common with their TA-VE700, though the power outputs are a little lower, with 40 watts RMS going to each of the front three channels and 2 x 20 watts for the rear surround channel. There’s a full set of surround modes, including Pro Logic and Dolby 3-channel, plus a range of DSP modes, that includes theatre, hall and stadium effects, and an equalisation preset optimised for video games. Sony have gone to considerable trouble to isolate the amplifier section from the VCR, with independent power supplies and plenty of screening. Incidentally, the amplifier section has its own cooling fan, this is powered by the VCR, and its speed varies with volume.

 

How does it perform. Although it is actually two separate devices, they function as one, with a unified on-screen display system and remote control handset. Some aspects of the control system are a little idiosyncratic, and it has clearly been designed with owners of Sony TVs in mind, but once you get used to it, it’s not too bad. The VCR performs well, resolution is a little above average, at just under 250 lines. Noise levels are low, lower still with higher grade tapes, which the optimiser uses to good effect. Colours are bright and reasonably accurate, with comparatively little noise, even on areas of high saturation. The stereo soundtracks are very clean, with hardly any background hiss.

 

Unfortunately we haven’t had the opportunity to test it with the optional speaker pack (5 speakers and an active sub-woofer). In spite of the relatively modest outputs the amplifier is quite gutsy and it has a good reserve of power, more than enough to fill a large living room, though the rear channel has to be wound up quite high to avoid it being swamped. The DPL decoder is good at picking out and steering loud dynamic sounds, softer effects can sometimes sound a little muddy. There’s minimal leakage to and from the centre channel. With all of the effects switched out the amplifier has a clean, well balanced response; bass output is adequate, but we suspect the optional active sub provides some useful extra welly, to really bring blockbuster movies alive.

 

Our Verdict. Sony are taking a bit of a chance with the AV100. We’re not sure that many people will be in the market for an AV amp and VCR at the same time. For those that are, it’s a practical and cost-effective combination of technologies that’s much more than the sum of its parts.

 

SLV-AV100

Features            VCR: NICAM, VideoPlus+ with PDC, auto set-up and clock check, NTSC playback, remote functions for other Sony products. AV Amp: Dolby Pro Logic, 7-mode DSP, 3 x 40 watts RMS (front), 2 x 20 watts RMS (rear)

Sockets            4 x AV inputs (phono), speakers (spring terminal), aerial bypass (coaxial)

Dimensions            157 x 430 x 412 mm

 

Picture Quality            ****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

There are none, but check out the Akai VS-G2400 DPL VCR at           £1000

 

Sony UK telephone 0181-784 1144

 

Critical Captions

It’s quite a lump, and the added height might cause problems with some installations, nevertheless it still takes up a lot less space than a separate VCR and AV amp

 

The jog/shuttle controls on the front panel and remote handset are not spring-loaded, which makes the multi-speed replay functions easier to use.

 

The front panel display has a lot of work to do; some of the display elements are not very large, and it’s not always easy to tell what it’s up to

 

The large, uncluttered rear panel connections simplify hook-ups to other items of AV equipment.

 

HEAD

JVC HR-J935, £499, ****

 

Why’s it here? VHS is a mature technology, close to the limits of its performance envelope, and in the twilight of its years, manufacturers are fast running out of ways to keep their VCRs looking fresh. It has fallen to JVC, the inventors of the format, to come up with the goods. The HR-J935 is without doubt the most interesting and unusual VHS VCR we’ve seen for a very long time, and the really good news is that it’s not some incredibly expensive flagship machine. At just under £500 it’s at the top end of the NICAM VCR scale, but when you take into account the new features, it has to be a bargain!

 

Any unique features? Only one, and that’s the Dynamic Drum. During fast picture search the upper cylinder on the head drum assembly is automatically tilted by a fraction of a degree. That means the heads track the tape more accurately and the result is a noiseless picture at X2, X3, X5, X7 and X9 search speeds, in both directions. That on its own is impressive, but JVC have gone one step further with a digital audio buffer  -- virtually identical to Sanyo’s Digital View Scan -- that lets you hear snatches of the soundtrack, in real time, at whatever speed the tape is running. JVC call noiseless replay with sound TimeScan, It’s ideal for watching sports and movies, without loosing track of the plot. Add to that NICAM, NTSC replay, picture enhancement and tape optimisation, auto set-up, jog/shuttle dials on front panel and handset and more editing fetaures than you can shake a camcorder at and you’ve got one helluva machine!

 

How does it perform? Brilliantly, though we have to say we’ve only tried a very early production sample, serial number 00000011 to be exact. However, if the rest are anything like this one JVC have got a winner on their hands. Resolution was a shade over 500-lines, picture noise levels are very low, and trick-play stability is simply amazing, not a trace of line break-up anywhere in the picture, at any replay speed. TimeScan sound is a bit rough, but speech is intelligible. Normal stereo hi-fi and NICAM sound is good, noise levels are a little below average and the response is reasonably flat.

 

Our Verdict. Go get it! For the price of a top-end NICAM VCR you can get something really special. TimeScan has to be the best new VCR feature since Video Plus+, but even without it the J935 would still be a fine machine, with a great line up of features and excellent AV performance, at a realistic price

 

JVC HR-J935, £499

Features            TimeScan, NICAM, VideoPlus+ with PDC, auto set-up and clock check, insert editing with flying erase head, sound shuttle, audio dub, manual audio recording level control, ‘Easy Edit’ assemble edit control, BEST tape tuning, illuminated multi-brand remote control, NTSC replay, child lock

Sockets            2 x SCART AV, stereo line audio out and front AV inputs (phono), RF bypass (coaxial)

Dimensions            435 x 105 x 353mm

 

Picture Quality            *****

Sound Quality            ****

Build Quality              ****

Features                     *****

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Competitors

Mitsubishi HS-561            £480            HE35

Sanyo VHR795            £430            HE35

Toshiba V856             £500            HE39

JVC UK Ltd., telephone 0181-450 3282

 

HEAD

Philips SBC-HC520, £80 ****

 

Why’s it here? Philips are on a roll. They’ve been quietly flogging headphones for years but just recently they’ve moved into infra-red cordless models, in a big way. We’ve been very impressed with what we’ve seen so far; the modestly-priced HC120’s and 380’s, reviewed in the August issue, received glowing reports, but now they’re filling the gap between those cheaper models and the top-end SBC 3995’s (£100). The SBC-HC520s  will be selling for £80; Philips say performance and styling are designed to appeal to more demanding audio and home cinema enthusiasts.

 

Any unique features? Nope. We’ve seen it all before, though Philips have clearly put a lot of effort into the cosmetics, and the trackball volume control is rather natty. Unlike most other IR phones on the market, this one uses high-frequency carriers of 2.3 and 2.8 MHz, giving the system a wide bandwidth of 12Hz to 24kHz. The spring-loaded headband and soft ear cushions are very comfortable. They’re light too, tipping the HE kitchen scales at just 250 grams, (with batteries). The transmitter module can be stood upright on its base plate, at a variety of angles, or laid horizontally, though in that case the phones will have nowhere to perch, when they’re not being used, or on charge.

 

How does it perform? Philips are the first to say the HC520’s are not in competition with proper corded headphones; the priorities here are portability, convenience and fun. The system generates moderate amounts of background hiss and they can become quite noisy at the extremes of the range, though the auto-mute system kicks in quite smartly, when the signal is lost. In spite of all that they sound quite good, with unexpectedly solid bass, coherent mid-range and bags of treble. Volume is adequate, a little more wouldn’t have gone amiss though. The phones are largely immune to interference from other light sources, including fluorescent tubes and TV screens.

 

Our Verdict. They’re okay, and amongst the most comfortable cordless phones we’ve tried, but the springy headband bumps and grinds if you bop around too energetically, and the background noise levels are a little higher than we’d have liked. On balance our vote still goes to the cheaper HC120s, currently selling for £50.

 

Philips  SBC-HC520, £80

Features            automatic level control, auto mute, rechargeable batteries that last up to 15 hours, 8-metre range, 4-position transmitter module

Sockets            line-audio in (phono), charging lead (minijack)

Weight             250 grams

 

Sound Quality            ***

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ***

 

Competitors

Philips SBC 3995    £100            HE38

Sennheiser IS-360 £70            HE38

Vivanco IR650  £90            HE38

 

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444

 

 

 

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1996 1110

 

 

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